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‘Did you rage?’ In Stanford sexual assault case, court records shed new light

In this June 2, 2016, file photo, Brock Turner, right, makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in Palo Alto, Calif. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group via Associated Press)

The former Stanford swimmer whose six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman set off a national uproar about binge drinking and sexual assault sought at his sentencing to minimize his experience with alcohol before he came to the university. But court documents released Friday suggested that Brock Turner had familiarity in high school with alcohol and marijuana.

In photos and phone messages, Turner appears to be holding a pipe for smoking marijuana, as well as talking about drinking and buying drugs.

In a June 2014 exchange, after he was asked “Did you rage last night?” Turner replied he had spent an hour and a half drinking, documents show. Messages extracted from his cellphone include repeated exchanges from that year, when Turner was in high school, about buying and using drugs, including marijuana.

Those words and images contrasted with the message Turner gave last week at his sentencing.

“Coming from a small town in Ohio, I had never really experienced celebrating or partying that involved alcohol,” Turner told Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky.

Turner was convicted this year of three felony counts of sexual assault for a January 2015 incident when he left a party at the Kappa Alpha fraternity house very drunk and attacked a woman he had met at the party, who was passed out behind a dumpster. At the time, he was a freshman at the university.

“We’re horrified”: At Stanford, the impact of a sexual assault is searing

The woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Stanford University's campus released a statement June 7, explaining why she is choosing to remain anonymous. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The court documents also include testimony from a woman who said she met Turner at a Kappa Alpha party the week before and quickly became uncomfortable because of the way he was touching her while dancing: dancing behind her, trying to turn her around to face him, and touching her waist, stomach and upper thighs until she got away from him. She said Turner “creeped her out” because he was so persistent.

Prosecutors urged “substantial prison term” in sentencing memo

Turner’s lawyer did not immediately return phone messages Friday seeking comment about the documents.

Meanwhile, pressure continued to mount on Persky, the judge who sentenced Turner to six months in county jail, three years of probation and a requirement that he register as a sex offender. Well over a million people have added digital signatures to online petitions calling for his removal. In addition, an advocacy group petitioned the agency that investigates and sanctions judges in California, and a protest is planned during one of Stanford’s commencement events.

That sentence — which outraged critics who felt it was far too lenient for the crime — and a wrenching 12-page letter from the victim about the effects of the assault on her made the case a potent symbol of the national issue of campus sexual assault. Prosecutors had asked for six years in state prison.

Persky, who cannot comment on the case, said at the time of the sentencing that he took the recommendation of the probation report into consideration. The probation officer wrote that Turner “expressed sincere remorse and empathy for the victim,” and that he said, “Having imposed suffering on someone else and causing someone else pain — I mean, I can barely live with myself. I can’t even get out of bed in the morning. I think about it every second of every day….”

The officer also wrote that while the victim “was understandably traumatized by the experience, her focus and concern was treatment, rather than incarceration.”

The victim said at the sentencing that her words had been misinterpreted.

The officer cited numerous factors affecting her recommendation of probation, including Turner’s lack of criminal history, his youth (Turner is 20) and the victim’s wishes.

Documents released Friday also included heartfelt letters from the victim’s family and her boyfriend about the continuing pain the assault caused her and her family.

Victoria Henley, director and chief counsel of California’s Commission on Judicial Performance, said that complaints to the commission are confidential, so she could not confirm or deny whether any have been made about Persky.

Melissa Byrne, who helped deliver petitions with the advocacy group UltraViolet, said they were not allowed to meet with people at the commission but left the paperwork in the office. She said it’s important because the woman who was assaulted had the courage to tell her story, but “unfortunately her story was not heard in the same manner to the judge as Brock Turner’s. His future was deemed to be more worthy than her future.

“It’s important that we have a strong future and that we band together to fight rape culture, which is why there has been such a strong support for this petition and this effort.”

The Santa Clara County Bar Association issued a statement Friday evening acknowledging the public outcry but defending the principle of judicial independence:

The SCCBA recognizes and supports the public’s right to comment on issues of public interest, including the proper adjudication of sexual assault cases and the fair and equal treatment of all who come before the courts. The SCCBA does not itself comment on rulings in individual cases to which it is not a party or amicus, and it, therefore, will not state a position on the Turner sentence.
However, the SCCBA also recognizes the importance of judicial independence, a principle that has not featured prominently in the national discussion to date. The judiciary plays a critical role in upholding the rule of law in our society and constitutional system. Judges have a duty to apply the law to the facts and evidence before them, regardless of public opinion or political pressure. In that role, judges provide an important check against other political forces. If judges had to fear direct, personal repercussions as a result of their decisions in individual cases, the rule of law would suffer. These principles date back to the founding of our nation and are a bedrock of the United States and California Constitutions.